First Published: July 14, 2021 | Last Updated: July 14, 2021

The gist: Here's the story of how I got addicted to Hustle Culture and started Work Brighter to escape from it.

I get asked a lot about how and why I started Work Brighter.

How I went from someone obsessed with productivity to someone who encourages you to question why it's even necessary.

And while I never turn down requests to share about it, I also don't usually offer it up on my own.

Because talking about those days isn't my favorite. It was fucking hard.

But it's important to share, to show what Hustle Culture and workaholism can do to someone.

So here's that story.

My Creatively Lazy Childhood

I was always been super into working efficiently and productivity, even before knowing those terms.

As a kid, I called it being "strategically lazy" or “creatively lazy” (I still stand by these terms).

For example, in middle school, I would do my homework on the school bus. Not like on the way to school, because I’d forgotten to do it and it was due in an hour. But on the way home from school, to get more free time in my afternoon.

After all, I had captivating plans of watching Mary-Kate and Ashley on ABC Family (remember So Little Time?!) and snacking before dance class.

It wasn't about productivity or success, it was about watching more TV.

Then in college, I ended up with two majors, two minors, was a sorority, on a dance team, had a part-time job, was doing an internship, and was on the executive board of three different organizations.

(God, I get tired just WRITING that now...)

Plus, it was the early days of and growing my audience online.

And I still had time for naps. I’ve always found time for naps. 😴

everyone needs two naps a day

Quite clearly, I’ve always been interested in efficiency and productivity.

But it wasn't the capitalist productivity most of us focus on as adults.

I wasn't driven by the urge to climb the business ladder, it was because I've always been multipassionate, and creative about finding time for all my different interests.

My drive to be productive just came from my drive to do a lot of fun and interesting things. It wasn't ABOUT the productivity.

At least, for most of my life.

Joining the Cult of Working Smarter

Between 2012 and 2014, when I was in my first full-time job and trying to prove myself like a stereotypical little millennial overachiever, I started to get serious about productivity and time management.

That was when I started using digital planning tools. Reading productivity books like The Four-Hour Workweek and Getting Things Done. Discovered automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier.

I started to become obsesseddd with productivity and "working smarter."

And significantly, it was when I joined the “online productivity community" and started interacting with lots of other people who were obsessed with working smarter too.

And somewhere around then, productivity became less of a means to an end for me, and more of an end in and of itself.

And Rising the Ranks

Without realizing it, I fell into the Hustle Culture Cult. 😬

Aka, internalized capitalism.

When your worth is based on your work.

When you're so obsessed with productivity and hustling and "working smarter" that you neglect other super important things like your friends, family, health, and hobbies.

By 2015, I was working 50+ hours a week as the Head of Content at a fast-growing SaaS startup in NYC, with a growing collection of side hustles.

In addition to my day job, I had a book blog business, freelance writing clients and content marketing students from my personal website, had just launched this brand, and was working on my first course.

(Again, I can't even write it all anymore without wondering wtf. 😂)

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

The Big Burnout of 2016

I kept working harder and smarter and more until about 2016.

That's when my body hit its limit.


So...there's an important part of all this I haven't mentioned yet:

I was doing all that with several diagnosed mental illnesses, a physical disability, and multiple undiagnosed chronic physical illnesses.

And for all the productivity advice I had obsessed over for years, for all the advice about managing my work, NONE of it taught me how to manage my body.

Or that I even needed to.

But mine was only willing to remain ignored for so long, I guess. ¯\(ツ)

Because starting in 2015, it stopped giving me the energy and strength needed to do all that ish I mentioned earlier.

Ignored and minimized illnesses started getting worse, and life became a chain of flare-ups followed by burnouts followed by flare-ups followed by burnouts...until they all just started blurring together.

By 2017, I could barely go a week without a doctor's appointment or hospital trip.

And even then, I refused to learn my lesson.

I would still literally reply to emails and write blog posts from the hospital bed. 🙈

"Look how smart I'm working now!" I'd proudly think.

But it slowly started to dawn on me that maybe, juuuust maybe, working smarter wasn't enough. 🤔

That's when I started learning to work brighter instead. 🦄

Realizing Where I Went Wrong

Kid Bberg NEVER would have expected Grownup Bberg to become such a damn workaholic bore.

The whole reason I cared about "productivity" when I was little (er...younger...I'm still fairly child-sized) was because it gave me as much non-work time as possible.

But once I became indoctrinated into the cult of productivity, the productivity was the point. It became an end in and of itself.

Instead of making time for non-work stuff, I was just making time for more work.

I mean, did you count the number of side hustles I started?! The concept of unmonetized hobbies no longer existed to me, a former hobby collector.

My entire life was about "working smart."

(Fun fact: that includes this brand. 🙈 The newsletter was originally named Work Smarter Weekly, but I renamed it after 10 or so issues. Back then, the phrase "Work Brighter" was more about just adding a little more color and personality to the world of productivity. But it's taking on a lot of new meaning since then.)

Righting the Path with Rest

Eventually, my family and a Very Wise Therapist (love those) scared me to my senses.

I started to realize/admit that...

a. I was burnt out af,

b. I ignored my burnout until it became legitimately dangerous to my health, and

c. that this was was because of workaholism and internalized ableism...both of which were instilled in me by Hustle Culture

This was in March 2017.

By that May, I had decided to leave my full-time job, go on hiatus from most side hustles, and take what I called a "self-care sabbatical."

I had ignored my mental and physical health for so long that at that point, the only way to fix it was to make it my only priority and responsibility day to day.

After that, HOPEFULLY I'd be able to start working again.

But my doctors were clear that wouldn't be a given, and to prepare for the possibility of being unable to work long-term.

Not fun news for someone whose whole life and identity revolved around her work. 😬

The rest of the year, I spent the majority of my time resting, going to doctor's appointments and treatments, and working on my health...both physical and mental.

I wrote and worked on my business one or two days a week, but it had become clear to me that I needed to channel my workaholism into the "job" of taking care of myself.

It's when I started telling myself "self-care is my side hustle."

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

Working Brighter Ever Since

I consider that the year I officially broke up with Hustle Culture.

Because even once I went "back to work," I was committed to doing it in a new way.

A way that was customized to me, and my health needs.

That prioritized rest, flexibility, and accessibility.

Not "working smarter" and the productivity best practices I'd spend so much of my career living by.

It was the year I stopped working smarter (or at least, stopped JUST working smarter), and started working brighter instead. 🦄

And working brighter means believing:

  • Productivity is personal - there are no one-size-fits-all solutions
  • Productivity is political - since the personal is also political
  • Rest IS work when it's needed - it's a job to be done, not a distraction or reward
  • It's okay to be "lazy" - in fact, it means challenging the idea that laziness even exists
  • Self-care is a soft skill - knowing what kind of care you need, and when, is an important skill that needs to be learned and practiced
  • Mental health is just health - a brain is a part of our body, but burnout often starts with ignoring mental illness in a way we wouldn't with a physical one

(You can learn more about what we're about here)

Over the years since, I've only learned more and more ways Hustle Culture and the cult of working smarter is inaccessible and unsustainable.

Like, in addition to my own ableist experiences with it, it's also so racist and misogynist.

Not to mention classist and elitist.

Alas, those are conversations for another day!

My point:

The more I learned Hustle Culture is harming us all, the more resolute I became in speaking out against it.

Not only did I go all-in on working brighter in my own unique way, I turned that newsletter...

The one that used to be called Work Smarter Weekly and preached the hustle gospel...

Into a media company and community to give others the tools, training, and support they need to do the same.

I like to say that Hustle Culture and "working smarter" is productivity for only the most privileged...."working brighter" is productivity for the rest of us.

And I'm glad to have you here with us. 😀

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.